For the past few months, my family and I have been #Feelingthebern. We followed with enthusiasm the presidential campaign of a protest candidate who confounded the pundits and talking heads who relegated him to asterisk status in the presumed coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is still plowing ahead despite devastating losses last Tuesday in major primaries he needed to win to remain viable. His holding out is more ode to those to whom his message resonates and by staying in he keeps Hillary and the Democrat platform refreshingly progressive.
It’s easy to say that Trump is to the Republicans what Bernie is to the Democrats but that simplifies a very complex paradigm. To be sure, both are protest candidates, both are anti-establishment and both have changed the face of their respective parties for at least a generation. There the similarities end because unlike Sanders, Donald Trump’s campaign seems unstoppable. If by some political maneuvering or trickery Trump does not get his party’s nomination he will still be perceived as having won anyway, exposing a rigged system that places power over the many in the hands of the few, the single issue that has propelled his popularity.
America in 2016 is a very angry place. Weary of war, frightened by terrorism, tired of stagnant wages and underemployment, sick of income inequality, pissed off that financial criminals are never punished, people simply want a new approach. When you are sick and not happy with your doctor because you’re not getting better, you find another one. America it seems, doesn’t want a new doctor, America wants a faith healer, someone to tell them that the whole discipline of medicine is broken, that medical treatments don’t work and that all doctors care about is billing and making money, not about your health. In the meantime the doctors, rather than listen to the frustrated patients, focus their efforts on discrediting the healers who just keep getting more popular. Trump is that faith healer and no one is calling 911 anymore because they are sure it doesn’t work.
Frankly, I live in a northeastern, urban, liberal cocoon. I’ll admit it right here and now, I will vote for an indicted, convicted or jailed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump any day. I still believe that the worst of America is better than the best of most of the rest of the world. But I’ve been south of New Jersey where God, Guns and Country are the top three priorities in people’s lives. They could give a damn about position papers, think tanks, policy prescriptions and establishment politics. If Trump says he’s going to make America great again, then they want to give him the keys to the kingdom and let him kick some ass.
While we educated, intellectual snobs continue to point out the lies, xenophobia, racism and total lack of coherent policy spewed by Donald Trump with the hope that his followers will see what we do, that this guy is a scary egomaniac, they see a straight talking outsider who is going to shake things up. That is a powerful narrative and we the enlightened class ignore this phenomenon at our own peril. Trump is less Barry Goldwater circa 1964 and more Andrew Jackson 1828 with less finesse but as strong a populist magnetism.
The political class chose to ignore two powerful voices a few years back; the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and now they are experiencing blowback. While I admit that from my perch the Tea Party looked and sounded like a bunch rednecks upset that a black man was elected president, they in fact spoke to the feeling of abandonment that rapid change brought on by technology, job loss, economic failure and government mismanagement has wrought against a large segment of American society. While Occupy Wall Street resonated with me more in their call for the prosecution of financial criminals, the real chord they hit was that government no longer cares about individuals and is simply beholden to interests.
Conservative dogma dictates that government owes us nothing and is too intrusive while progressives believe that there is a government solution to most everything. What neither sides’ establishment ever conceived was that while they were fighting each other, by gridlocking government and spending most of their time trying to stay in office, they lost the masses to anger and cynicism. I live with this naïve hope that the same establishment has gotten the message and that the masses understand that the best path to reform is with contrite insiders willing to fix the rigged system. My gut tells me we are too late and we better get used living with President Trump.